Teens and children deal with the aftermath of gunfights in Highland Park

HIGHLAND PARK, Illinois — The high school students understood that one day they might witness a mass shooting, perhaps in the classroom, like the drills they had done previously. But they didn’t think it would happen outside while many of them were part of a parade.

Just before bullets from a semi-automatic rifle slammed into concrete, glass windows and the flesh of their neighbors, the Highland Park High School marching band provided the soundtrack for the Fourth of July celebrations. Then they dropped their instruments and ran away.

When they met with two psychologists at their school on Thursday, some of the teenagers taking part in the parade said they felt guilty and wished they had done more to help others escape.

“It’s a natural feeling when people go through traumatic experiences,” said school psychologist Casey Moravek, who shared aspects of the counseling session with The Washington Post. “But hearing guilt from people who shouldn’t have gone through it — the fact that they have this negative feeling about themselves — is heartbreaking.”

In Chicago’s more violent neighborhoods, some say attending a Fourth of July parade would be unthinkable

In the days since Monday’s mass shooting, which killed seven people and injured more than 40, Highland Park community leaders and attorneys have focused on addressing the mental health burden of children and young people affected by the violence.

Both the parade and the crowd included hundreds of youth of all ages. The community’s schools and churches have been converted into therapy resource centers for families seeking counsel in the aftermath.

Michelle Marks brought her sons, 8 and 4, to the parade. Her 10-year-old was at summer camp. The family sat about half a block from where the gunman, who was sitting on a rooftop and disguised in women’s clothing, was concentrating his attack.

As the shooting began, Marks and her husband snatched the boys from their curb seats and sprinted to an open cafe. They ran through a back door to a parking garage and took shelter in a stairwell while the boys screamed in horror and confusion.

Last month, Marks, who practices labor law, decided to tell her eldest sons about the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, 1,100 miles away. She believed they would find out about the shooting if she didn’t tell them to friends or online.

Someone came into a school with guns they shouldn’t have and tried to hurt children, she told the boys. She didn’t say 19 fourth graders were killed – she couldn’t understand that. Instead, she urged her to be mindful of people at her school who didn’t belong. And she assured them that they were safe and that nothing like that would happen here.

“Kids can hear about stuff like this and assume it’s happening everywhere all the time,” Marks said. “I believed what I said because the odds are really slim. Now all I can say is, ‘This won’t happen twice.’ ”

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On Wednesday, Marks took her two youngest sons to Ravinia Elementary School in Highland Park, where donated toys, therapy dogs and counselors awaited affected families. The boys were eager to meet the dogs. Marks decided against letting her meet with a counselor.

“I felt like the 8-year-old would think maybe I’ll let him go to someone because there’s something wrong with him or he doesn’t feel enough about it,” Marks said. “I’d rather just follow his example and give him some time.”

Psychologists and therapists at Highland Park stressed that the emotional needs of each child who witnessed the mass shooting would be different. For some, a frank conversation with family members may be enough. Others who have persistent trauma symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, aversion to crowds, nightmares and separation anxiety, should consider professional help, they said.

Alex Ochoa, a clinical social worker at Family Services in Glencoe, a town that borders Highland Park, met with about 15 people affected by the shooting between Tuesday and Thursday. She said parents reported their children had trouble sleeping during two nights of thunderstorms in the Chicago area. Little kids would ask parents, “Is the bad guy here? Is he coming for us?”

“I recommended keeping them close, helping them fall asleep by staying in the room, and letting them know what they can do to gain access to them,” Ochoa said. “And it’s important to answer all their questions.”

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Ashlee Jaffe’s 5-year-old son had a lot.

Jaffe, a 39-year-old pediatric physical therapist from Philadelphia, was visiting family in Northbrook, Illinois over the holiday weekend. She snapped photos from the beginning of the parade, as neighborhood kids on bicycles and tricycles decorated with streamers and American flags made their way down the route, their dogs in tow. Then came the first responders, the Highland Park police and fire department, then the high school marching band.

A few minutes after most of Highland Park’s first responders had passed, a bullet hit Jaffe’s hand. She dived towards her son, pulled him by one leg and pushed him under the bench they had been sitting on, accidentally smearing blood on his face and leg.

As her son sprinted from the scene, she saw a man with multiple chest wounds and his shirt bloodstained. He tried to understand.

“My son assumed that the paramedics painted the wounds red so the doctors would know where they were,” Jaffe said.

Trying to stay safe in a mass shooting and overcome the fear generated

The boy had sleepless nights and complained of headaches and stomachaches. When asked what would make it better, he said talking about the parade might help.

He suspected someone might be shooting at balloons, which explained the loud bang. He asked if parades always end like this. And he was eager to see the stitches in Jaffe’s hand as she removed the bandage.

He wanted to know if the shooter had been caught and he wanted to know his name.

“We answered all of his questions, and then he wanted to talk to his grandma, so we FaceTimed her and he asked the same questions,” Jaffe said.

After a conversation with her son’s pediatrician, she also delays therapy for the time being.

“I can’t believe I have to explain what a Sagittarius is to my son,” Jaffe said. “I can only hope this is the only mass shooting he will ever be a part of.”

Older children in Highland Park told therapists and parents they imagined one day witnessing a mass shooting, but felt safe at the parade.

“What I expressed was that they were more nervous at school and felt more prepared if something happened at school,” said Moravek, the college psychologist. “But they didn’t feel prepared at the parade and were shocked that something happened there.”

Jaffe said an FBI investigator who interviewed her said other victims and witnesses described the middle and high school students at the parade immediately after the attack as the most competent, identifying appropriate cover and shelter and the route point.

School counselors have advised parents to watch out for symptoms like eating disorders and a lack of motivation for activities that once excited their children. Many of the students and parents have expressed a desire to advocate for gun control measures as an outlet for their emotions and have asked the advisers how they can get involved politically, Moravek said.

Gun control was an important factor in keeping the Marks family in Illinois during the pandemic, Michelle said. They considered returning to their home state of Texas. But she said they couldn’t reconcile Texas gun culture and comparatively lax gun control laws with the values ​​they wanted to instill in their sons.

“I grew up Texan and used to be proud of it, but the world has changed,” she said. “Is it ironic that we decided to stay in Illinois and this is happening? Yes. There is no place in this country where you can get away from it.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/07/09/children-july-4-counseling-highland-park/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_national Teens and children deal with the aftermath of gunfights in Highland Park

James Brien

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